A former Finnish civil servant was forced to resign as head of that country's immigration service nearly 20 years ago, directly as a result of a woman of Estonian origin whom he had promoted at work being involved in issuing residence permits for cash bribes, Finnish paper Iltalehti reports on its website. The woman was reportedly the half-sister of Herman Simm, who served a decade in prison for treason against the Estonian state.
Matti Saarelainen (pictured), who, going by Iltalehti's information has had somewhat of a checkered career, was also in his immigration office post when Russian oligarch Gennadi Timchenko was granted Finnish citizenship for "unclear" reasons, in addition to the residence permit cases.
In the case of the latter, most of the recipients of permits were of Turkish or Russian origin.
Saarelainen resigned from that post in 2004.
A source told Iltalehti (all links in Finnish) that the woman in question under Saarelainen's charge is also the half-sister of convicted traitor Herman Simm, an Estonian who was released from prison in December 2019.
Saarelainen told Iltalehti that he does has no recollection of a conversation from 2004, in which then Minister of the Interior, Kari Rajamäki, says she forced his resignation from the immigration office post.
The woman of Estonian origin, whom Iltalehti did not name, had worked as a translator at Soviet travel bureau Intourist, an institution with strong ties to the KGB and Soviet security apparatus, and Rajamäki says she considers her subsequent promotion in Finland, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, had been a grave error of judgment on Saarelainen's part.
Saarelainen reportedly promoted her in the fall of 1999, while the illicit sale of Finnish residence permits came to light in 2003.
The woman denies the allegations, and says her financial situation at the time had prompted her to borrow money, Iltalehti reports.
In 2003, when the allegations came to light, Finland's interior ministry ordered an investigation, which revealed that the immigration office's management was not up to the task of detecting the woman's activities.
Former minister Rajamäki said that this apparent slowness on the uptake on Saarelainen's part also necessitated she reiterate, twice, that he was required to resign.
Saarelainen also involved in Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko's dubious acquisition of Finnish citizenship
Iltalehti had reported in May last year that Saarelainen had also been involved in the acquisition of Finnish citizenship for Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, following a request from Saarelainen's friend, businessman Kai Paananen, to do so, a lawyer source present at the time told Iltalehti.
Timchenko was in turn presumed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time of the granting of Finnish citizenship, and had worked in the past for the KGB.
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) said in 1999 this citizenship procedure was conducted in a manner which prevented the authority from intervening or halting the process in a timely manner – for instance, several key personnel happened to be on vacation at the time the citizenship application was ongoing.
Saarelainen was also a Supo employee, across three stints 1991-1998, 2004-2005 and 2017-2022.
Timchenko was already on Supo's' radar, since he had run a company in Finland in the 1990s which had been founded by a former KGB employee who had been deported from Sweden on espionage charges. '
The company, IPP, formerly Urals Finland Oy, which was Putin-approved, was a Russian fuel importer and reseller.
Its Espoo office was often visited by Russian diplomats and businesspeople, Iltalehti reports.
According to Iltaleht's sources, British and U.S. intelligence officials were surprised by Timochenko's being granted citizenship, given this state of affairs, a citizenship which permitted him freedom of movement across the EU and other western states, right down to spring 2022, and which rendered him immune to any potential EU sanctions.
Saarelainen also accused of sexual harassment
Meanwhile, Saarelainen in 2017 had to resign as director of the European Center of Excellence for Hybrid Threats after being accused of sexual harassment, public broadcaster Yle reported.
He then went back to work for Supo, apparently oblivious of the charges against him in relation to Timchenko, and only announced his retirement last November, Iltalehti reported at the time.
Saarelainen also worked for the Finnish government office, 2005-2008.
Herman Simm was in 2009 found guilty of having sold thousands of confidential documents to Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, and was incarcerated in Tartu Prison until his early release in December 2019.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Allan Aksim
Source: Iltalehti, Yle